Puketi rec area (km199)-Kerikeri (km222)
Mileage: 14.3mi/23km plus too much walking around town.
Today was a short-ish walk into the first large town, Kerikeri. I woke to the sound of rain on my tent as well as the rooster crowing. The rain was light and let up shortly after. With no rain for the first whole week, I’d say I have been pretty lucky. I followed Mike on the route through paddock fields most of the morning. A paddock is simply a parceled piece of rangeland. New Zealand practices rotational grazing, in which stock is periodically moved from one small paddock to another to more effectively alleviate over-grazing. It’s more work for the farmer but seems to be working since the fields are full of grass and the livestock look fat and happy. Mike walks paddocks for a living so he uncannily knew exactly where to go every time, even though the route markers were scarce. A lot of hikers get lost in this section, so it was nice not to have to think about navigation for once.
I found out along the way that Mike definitively does not like sheep. I thought that was funny given how many sheep there are in the country and what it’s known for. How can you be a proper kiwi and not like sheep? He replied “some of us are just smarter than that.” Fair enough. I raised a few lambs for 4-H and I thought of them as very pleasant animals but I’ve never had to work with them on a commercial basis. After a while, we came across two women walking one of the paddocks. It was Cathy Jones and her daughter out for a stroll on their family farm. Upon learning that Mike was a fellow farmer, they invited us in for tea and toast. We had an amazingly long visit in which much was discussed, including U.S. politics. It was great to spend time chatting with the locals and something I want to be open to along the trail, even if it eats into hiking time.
Sometimes it’s best to slow down and get the local perspective. The most valuable lesson learned in travels around the world is that we all have much more in common than we have differences. We finally said farewell to the Jones family and continued through the farmland. We found some trail magic at a stile (built-in steps for crossing fences). The landowner had put out a bucket of tangerines and a board and marker for the TA class 2017-2018 to sign. It was the best tangerine I ever had…juicy and no seeds. Then we encountered a large horse troupe out for a country ride. There must have been about 30 riders, all wearing brightly-colored safety vests and helmets, as is the requirement here. Apparently New Zealand does have lawyers. One rider eschewed riding pants and instead opted for the short shorts that are so popular here.
The trail followed the river into town, past Rainbow falls at 27m high. It was a very pleasant stroll, even though my ankle had begun to really hurt. I have a sandfly bite that has been aggravated by the rubbing of my shoe, causing swelling. I had considered pushing on through Kerikeri but the day was running short, I was tired and hurting, and it was starting to rain heavily for the first time. It was time for town!
This is going to sound very sad but the first thing we did was head for McDonald’s. Earlier, we had a discussion about my first visit to New Zealand and having a kiwi burger, just for the novelty of it. McDonald’s has adopted this local specialty and no, the burger is not made out of the kiwi bird but rather plain old New Zealand beef. The kiwi burger is a combination of beef patty, fried egg, and beet, along with the rest of the usual stuff. Mike broke the sad news that McDonald’s no longer regularly had the kiwi burger but when we got there, they had it as a special! I guess it comes and goes, just like the McRib. So of course I had another kiwi burger and it was very tasty. We stayed at the holiday park, where I did laundry and went shopping at the nearby supermarket. The tentsites were nice near a stream but all the way at the bottom of the hill. I did a lot of off-trail walking!